Ouch – Springer editorial board member publicly resigns

Peter Murray-Rust, a noted Open Access advocate and online publishing innovator in chemistry, has publicly resigned on his blog from the editorial board of Springer’s journal Journal of Molecular Modeling over Springer’s apparent handling of its Open Choice programme.

Under Springer’s Open Choice, authors can voluntarily have their paper made open access even within an otherwise subscription-based journal by paying a fee of $3000 to the publisher. All large publishers have such schemes, primarily as a response to the introduction of policies by research funders (such as the National Institutes of Health in the US and the Wellcome Trust in the UK) requiring authors to deposit a version of their accepted articles in a public archive.

Springer had gone rather farther than most, however, with the appointment in 2005 of Jan Velterop as Director of Open Access, who had made public statements about Springer’s commitment to real open access, e.g. with the use of a licence based on the Creative Commons licence.

Murray-Rust thought about publishing an article under Open Choice and decided to look at some existing examples to see what he got for his money. To his surprise, the Open Choice articles he found were marked “© Springer” and had links to the CCC Rightslink online permissions system.

It’s not entirely clear whether Murray-Rust attempted to discuss this with Springer or whether he immediately decided to resign[Update: see comment from Peter Murray-Rust below] , but whichever he couched his resignation in very robust language:

…it is absolutely clear that Springer has no intention of actually making this article Open Access even by their own “Your Research. Your Choice” promise, let alone the BOAI.

The best that can be said is that Springer don’t care a green fig about Open Choice – they clearly have made no effort to implement it with the care that is required. That’s certainly the impression that most of the large publishers give – they want to be able to say “we offered this choice but hardly anyone wanted to take it up”.

If Springer care about it they should give all the authors their money back. I think they have destroyed the idea of Open Choice for the whole publishing industry. It doesn’t matter what the details were – they have blatantly failed to deliver “full open access” and they have taken a lot of money for it.

Springer’s Velterop was left struggling to respond in a comment to Murray-Rust’s blog posting. He pointed out that

*any* copyright holder can make an article open access, and this *includes* the publisher

Technically true, but clearly not what authors would expect from reading the Open Choice rubric.

Velterop went on to blame the copyright line and Rightslink buttons on inflexibilities in the Springer production system and flaws in their Rightslink implementation, which is hardly great PR for the publisher — the “cock-up rather than conspiracy” defence.

He also pointed out that Springer had made some articles Open Choice without author payments to help measure usage (there presumably not being enough take-up by authors to produce any valid statistics on differential usage?), and that Springer had made some articles retrospectively Open Choice by agreements with various Dutch institutions.

Although Murray-Rust comes across as hasty in not securing an explanation from Springer before going public, the PR damage to Springer is surely greater. Springer’s Open Choice programme has been in place longer than most publishers, so it’s not unreasonable to expect they would have sorted out the associated production issues before now. They are also guilty of poorly managing expectations and scrambling to give expectations after the fact, rather than say including these details in a FAQ section on the Open Choice pages.

Update 2: Matt Hodgkinson has an interesting post about this – Open Choice takes a beating – on his Journalology blog.

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2 Responses to “Ouch – Springer editorial board member publicly resigns”


  1. 1 Peter Murray-Rust 11 July 2007 at 8:13 am

    Thanks for the commentary and from where you see it your critcism of me is fair. However I did write to Jan Velterop publicly (nearly two months ago from my mailbox)

    Velterop, Jan, Springer UK 17:29 25/05/2007 5 Open Data at Springer?

    in a perfectly normal tone:

    I am in the process of carrying out an informal review of publishers’ policies to making chemistry data (as opposed to free text) Open. Currently RSC, IUCr (Acta Cryst) and ACS make their supplemental data Openly visible and – at least for the first two and possibly for ACS – free of copyright (i.e. real Open Data). By contrast Springer, Wiley and Elsevier do not expose their supplemental (supporting) data.

    You wrote:
    Johannes (Jan) Velterop, Director of Open Access at Springer Publishing:
    “Copyright is, or should be, kind of irrelevant in scientific discourse other than to ensure recognition for the author. But the system that has evolved, and that we all still keep alive, relies on copyright as a kind of ‘payment for services.’ Let’s face it, as researchers we use scientific journals to get the credits we need. ‘Publish or perish,’ remember? And journals have to defray their costs, so they charge for subscriptions. And in order to be able to charge for subscriptions, they need copyright. Copyright is therefore a kind of ‘payment’ on the part of the author for the services of ‘formalising,’ officially publishing, their article in a peer-reviewed journal. Obviously, copyright is a poor mechanism to pay for those services. Not least because it comes with restrictive access. Much better to simply pay for those services with money, keep the copyright in the process, and publish your articles with open access, making all use of the material free, or at least all non-commercial use, on condition of proper acknowledgement. An increasing number of journals offer that possibility, and an increasing number of funders allow for payment of those publishing services from grant money (it’s not all that different from page charges, after all), on the premise that publishing is an integral part of the research itself and therefore the cost of publishing is an integral part of the cost of research.”

    I would be grateful for a formal position on Springer’s policy for publishing and re-use of supplemental data and whether it has any intention of making this Open Data. You know my position – I would like to be able to read supplemental info from a publisher’s site without permission and to re-use it for any purpose as long as the author is given credit. In simple terms approximately CC-BY. At present Springer does not expose supplemental data Openly and I do not know what their policy is about re-use.

    I am a crystallographer and partcularly concerned about access to crystallographic information published as CIFs (an IUCr standard). The first 3 publishers above expose CIFs completely. Springer does not publish CIFs and links readers to the Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre. where CIFs are either only available in very small quantity (ca. 25 max out of ca 350, 000) or only available by subscription. The files – which are data – appear to be copyrighted by the Cambridge Data centre. Does Springer handle any part of this process of restricting access to information?

    Please let me know which parts of your answer can be made public.

    Many thanks

    P.

    (Independently I would be interested to know what number or percentage of chemistry papers have been published as Open Choice and if you could point me to a few so I can see whether the Data are Openly available. In particular are the CIF files Open or are they also copyrighted?)
    Peter Murray-Rust
    Unilever Centre for Molecular Sciences Informatics
    University of Cambridge,
    Lensfield Road, Cambridge CB2 1EW, UK
    +44-1223-763069

    ====

    I received no reply. It is possible that the mail systems have gone wrong somewhere but it is unlikely that the mail would be classed as spam.

    I agree that I used robust language, but I have got to the stage where I feel that the major publishers are – for whatever reason – being less than constructive in this area.

    I should note, of course, that I am not perfect in replying to all emails and requests.

  2. 2 mrkwr 11 July 2007 at 9:50 am

    Thanks for the clarification. I’ve updated the entry and modified my own language slightly.

    It may not have come across clearly, but the thrust of my piece was a criticism of Springer to have allowed the situation to develop in the way that it has. Perceptions are critical, and Springer has clearly let themselves get in a position where the academic community can reasonably perceive them as not fully committed to their own position on open access.

    I agree that blaming the spam filter is the modern equivalent of “the cheque is in the post” – even if true, it’s probably best avoided!


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